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Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress," in The Business Professor, updated January 9, 2015, last accessed April 2, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/knowledge-base/intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress/.
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Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
This video explains the tort of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

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What is the “Intentional Infliction of Mental Distress”?

The intentional infliction of mental distress upon another is a form of battery to the emotions. Like a battery, it is caused by intentional conduct that carries a strong probability of causing mental distress to the person at whom it is directed. Generally, the conduct must be very extreme or outrageous in nature to result in emotional distress. To recover for this tort, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the intentional conduct actually caused her mental distress that manifests itself physically.

  • Example: Intentionally exposing a person to extreme ridicule in front of a large crown may constitute such a tort.

Discussion: What type of conduct would you consider sufficiently extreme or outrageous to qualify as a battery on the emotions? Do you agree with the requirement that mental distress must also manifest itself through physical symptoms?

Practice Question: Helen is shopping in the mall with her daughter, Penny. They are on the second floor of the mall looking over the railing at the large, central fountain when a stranger approaches Penny. The stranger picks up Penny and begins screaming at her. He then holds her over the railing and threatens to drop her into the fountain a floor below. Helen screams hysterically for help and begs the stranger to put her down safely on the ground. Some bystanders grab Penny and tackle the stranger to the ground. Helen is so emotionally distraught by the incident that she develops nightmares, insomnia, and begins seeing a therapist. Can Helen sue the stranger and, if so, for what? Explain.

Proposed Answer

  • The intentional infliction of mental distress occurs when one intentionally or reckless causes severe emotional damage to another through extreme and outrageous conduct. This includes:
    • Intent. A claimant must show that the defendant intended the infliction of distress, knew with substantial certainty that emotional distress would result, or acted with reckless disregard of a high probability that emotional distress would occur.
    • Severe emotional damage. A plaintiff’s emotional damage must be severe, annoyance or hurt feelings are insufficient. If a reasonable person would not have suffered shock or severe damage from the defendant’s conduct, the defendant is not liable. If a defendant acted with knowledge of a plaintiff’s extra sensitivity, the defendant will be liable without regard to the reasonableness of the plaintiff’s damages.
    • Extreme and outrageous conduct. Extreme and outrageous conduct s intentional conduct which exceeds all reasonable bounds of decency in a civilized society.

Academic Research

Cantu, Charles, An Essay on the Tort of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress in Texas: Stop Saying it Does Not Exist (2002). 33 St. Mary’s L.J. 455 (2002). . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2890768

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